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What to Do If Your Child Gets Lost

When a child wanders off, gets confused and lost, a parent may feel an overwhelming sense of panic and fear that may impact their ability to act quickly. It is extremely important, under these circumstances, to remain calm but also to take action. The steps you should take will depend on three factors: the location where your child went missing; if you were present at the location with your child; and what resources are available to you in the search for your child.

Immediate Steps:

Indoor Facilities

If you have become separated from your child in a public indoor facility:

  • Listen carefully as your child may be calling out to you.

  • Stop and yell your child’s name. If yelling out your child’s name doesn’t help to locate them, head to the meeting spot which you and your child agreed upon when entering the facility to see if your child is there. Continue to call out your child’s name.

  • Look around to see if something may have caught your child’s attention.

  • Do not hesitate or be embarrassed to ask for immediate help from staff, security guards, other moms, police, etc. Get as much help as possible.

  • Do not be afraid to employ the help of others in securing exits and entrances.

  • Have someone check the washroom facilities.

  • Have someone stay at the meeting spot, such as a family member or other trusted adult, in case your child goes to the meeting spot, doesn’t see you there, and then continues searching.

Many stores or public events have policies and procedures put in place to respond to a lost child emergency. Notify staff or event organizers as soon as possible. If you have a picture of your child on your cell phone or on you, show it to security or staff at the event.

Outdoor Areas

If you have become separated from your child in an outdoor area:

  • Listen carefully as your child may be calling you.

  • Stop and yell out your child’s name. If yelling out your child’s name doesn’t help to locate your child, head to the meeting spot which you and your child agreed upon when entering the facility to see if your child is there. Continue to call out your child’s name.

  • Look around to see if something may have caught your child’s attention.

  • Do not hesitate or be embarrassed to ask for immediate help from staff, security guards, other moms, police, etc. Get as much help as possible.

  • Focus your attention on searching around the immediate area and potential locations that may have caught your child’s attention.

  • Contact the police to come and help you search.

Contacting the Police

If your child is not located immediately, notify law enforcement as they will need to lead the next steps in the search.

  • Contact the police to come help you search.

  • There are certain factors that may elevate a child’s risk and should be stressed to police, including if your child:

  • Suffers from a physical or intellectual disability;

  • Needs to take certain prescription medications and whether or not they typically carry these medications with them; and/or

  • Is unfamiliar with the area (e.g. recently moved or visiting a new place), and the location where it appears they have gotten lost is near a body of water, mountains or other rugged terrain where they may have become injured.

  • In Canada, you do not have to wait to report your child missing.

Please see the Unknown and Young Adults or the Stranger Abduction section for more information on how to proceed.

Being separated from your child, if only for a few minutes, can be a traumatic event for parents. It is important to learn from this experience and use it as an opportunity to discuss safety strategies with your child in order to help prevent such types of incidents from re-occurring in the future.

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